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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: May 2004
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SpaceShipOne
Private spaceship sets altitude record
(May 14, 2004)


The ultimate thrill ride could be closer to reality. Aircraft designer Burt Rutan and his firm Scaled Composites took a giant leap early Thursday toward becoming the first private company to send a person into space. Scaled Composites, funded by Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Paul Allen, set a new civilian altitude record of 40 miles in a craft called SpaceShipOne during a test flight above California's Mojave Desert. The firm is one of 24 companies from several countries competing for the X Prize, which will go to the first privately funded group to send three people on a 62.5-mile-high suborbital flight and repeat the feat within two weeks using the same vehicle.

Read more. Source: CNN

asteroid collision
Boost to asteroid wipe-out theory
(May 13, 2004)


The 250-million-year-old Permo-Triassic extinction killed off 95% of all marine life and 70% of all land species. The cause is not known, but candidates include volcanism and space impacts. The discovery of a possible crater off the coast of Australia may lend weight to the impact theory, US researchers report in the latest Science magazine. However, the claim has met with controversy: some scientists doubt the site is even an impact crater. The evidence comes from seismic imaging, gravity data and the identification of melt rocks and impact breccias in cores drilled in and around a seabed feature called the Bedout High, off the coast of north-western Australia.

Read more. Source: BBC

suspected planet seen by Hubble
Hubble sees "planet" around star
(May 12, 2004)


The historic first image of a planet circling another star may have been taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The "planet", 5-10 times the mass of Jupiter, is orbiting a small white dwarf star about 100 light-years away. Astronomers are being cautious, saying they require more data to be sure it really is a planet and not a background object caught in the same field of view. Confirmation will come if follow-up observations can show the planet and the star moving together through space. Over the past 10 years, scientists have discovered more than 120 so-called exoplanets. However, all have been found by indirect methods – none was photographed directly.

Read more. Source: BBC

SpaceShipOne
X-Prize 'will be won this year'
(May 11, 2004)


The X-Prize, a $10m race to be the first private company to put a craft into space twice in two weeks, will be won soon, believe its organisers. X-Prize chairman Peter Diamandis says it will be secured within five months. A total of 26 teams are competing, with SpaceShipOne, an entry by aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan, considered to be the favourite to win the prize. Other teams have already started to look at what they might do after the main challenge has been met.

Read more. Source: BBC

Carlsbad Cavern
Bugs go spelunking
(May 11, 2004)


Some of the world's largest and most spectacular caves were created by the tiniest builders imaginable, according to a team of US geologists. Hundreds of thousands of visitors are drawn each year to the spectacular grottos and rock formations of the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and the Frasassi caves in Italy. But the crowds now have another reason to marvel. These caves, say Annette Summers Engel and colleagues of the University of Texas at Austin, were literally eaten out of the rock by bacteria.

Read more. Source: Nature

Milky Way galaxy
Milky Way spiral gets an extra arm
(May 9, 2004)


The map of the Milky Way is being redrawn, following the discovery of another arm of the galaxy. The structure consists of an arc of hydrogen gas 77,000 light years long and a few thousand light years thick running along the galaxy's outermost edge. "We see it over a huge area of sky," says Naomi McClure-Griffiths of the Australia National Telescope Facility in Epping, New South Wales, who led the team that made the discovery. Astronomers are shocked that the feature has been overlooked until now. "I was absolutely flabbergasted, it was quite clearly seen in some of the previous surveys but it was never pointed out or given a name," says Tom Dame at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Endurance crater
Mars scientists find tempting new rocks
(May 7, 2004)


Excited Mars mission scientists on Thursday released spectacular pictures of cliff-like rocks they hope will provide further clues about the extent of water on the red planet. Scientists at the Mars mission headquarters in Pasadena said the pictures were taken by the robot rover Opportunity from the rim of a football-stadium sized crater reached after a six-week trek across martian flatlands. The crater, dubbed Endurance, is lined by multiple layers of exposed bedrock resembling cliffs that mission scientists said is completely different from anything they have seen since the ground-breaking Mars mission began in January. "It's the most spectacular view we've seen of the martian surface, for the scientific value of it but also the sheer beauty," principal science investigator Steve Squyres told a news conference. (Spacecraft rendering superimposed for scale).

Source: Reuters

Mars
How Mars got its rust
(May 6, 2004)


Why is Mars so much rustier than the Earth? The red planet has more than twice as much iron oxide in its outer layers as our own, yet most planet scientists reckon the two bodies were formed from the same materials. David Rubie and colleagues from the University of Bayreuth, Germany, say they have an answer: the intense heat inside the early Earth was enough to convert a lot of iron oxide into molten metallic iron, which seeped down into the planet to form a huge liquid core.

Read more. Source: Nature

dark matter detector
Dark matter detector limbers up
(May 5, 2004)


A US team has released the first results from a super-sensitive hunt for the mysterious "dark matter". This form of matter comprises more than 70% of the Universe's mass, far more than the stars and galaxies we can see. The Cryogenic Dark Matter Search uses equipment at the bottom of a Minnesota mine to filter out all interference. Writing in the Physical Review Letters, the team says that while a detection has yet to occur, there is now a better idea of how much dark matter must exist.

Read more. Source: BBC

Endurance Crater
Opportunity peers into Endurance Crater
(May 4, 2004)


After a 50-meter (164-foot) drive on sol 94, which ended at 10:10 p.m. April 29 PDT, and the final approach of 17 meters (56 feet) on sol 95, which ended at 10:49 p.m. April 30 PDT, Opportunity arrived on the western rim of "Endurance Crater" and began surveying the spectacular new view. Opportunity sits about half a meter (1.6 feet) outside the edge of the crater with a positive pitch of 4.7 degrees, meaning the rover is slightly tilted with its head up. The western side of the crater rim slopes down in front of Opportunity with an angle of about 18 degrees for about 17 meters (56 feet).

Read more. Source: Space Daily

Mars base
Bush's 'vision' for space clouded
(May 3, 2004)


President Bush's "Vision for Space Exploration" made headlines when it was announced 3 1/2 months ago, but Congress has refused to even consider funding the initiative until NASA comes up with more concrete proposals to flesh it out. The impasse has brought to a standstill NASA's plans to begin work on the new strategy, even as long-standing programs ranging from the grounded space shuttles to Earth science and aeronautics remain mired in uncertainty. Space advocates in both the Senate and the House have already rebuffed NASA's attempts to reallocate money in the current year to jump-start parts of the plan and have warned the agency that its 2005 budget proposal will not pass at its $16.2 billion price tag - and maybe not at any price — in a Congress trying to cope with record budget deficits and protracted war.

Read more. Source: MSNBC

cosmic background
Scientists announce cosmic ray theory breakthrough
(May 2, 2004)


University of California scientists working at Los Alamos National Laboratory have proposed a new theory to explain the movement of vast energy fields in giant radio galaxies (GRGs). The theory could be the basis for a whole new understanding of the ways in which cosmic rays – and their signature radio waves – propagate and travel through intergalactic space. In a paper published this month in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, the scientists explain how magnetic field reconnection may be responsible for the acceleration of relativistic electrons within large intergalactic volumes. That is, the movement of charged particles in space that are originally energized by massive black holes.

Read more. Source: Space Daily/Los Alamos

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